Two years ago, a student at the University of Cincinnati won a restraining order against her parents for “stalking” her in college. They had installed spyware on their daughter’s phone and computer, snuck into her dorm room on multiple occasions, and regularly met with the dean of her college demanding academic updates. In an age where the media has as many terms for overly-involved parents as the Eskimos have for snow (Tiger moms, Helicopter parents, wolf dads, etc.), this anecdote, sadly, hardly comes as a surprise.
Parents are unquestionably a critical component to a student’s college transition, but it’s important to delineate what parental action is helpful and what may be detrimental in the admissions process.
1. Sometimes parents, swept up in the college admissions frenzy, push their children to take an excessive number of honors and AP classes.
Rigor is great, but excessive rigor only leads to sleepless nights, anxiety, and a shortage of time to enjoy one’s high school days. Let your child ultimately make the call on what type of schedule they can handle while still maintaining sanity.
2. Don’t sweat the summers.
Your child does not need to spend his/her vacation doing something absurdly original and high brow. Running with wild boars in Paraguay or hang gliding over the Zambezi River will not win you any more points with admissions officers than volunteering at the SPCA down the street or slopping together $5 Footlongs at Subway.
3. Pushing a particular college on your child because you think it will be their golden ticket to the good life is not a helpful or realistic message in the college selection process.
It’s vital to look at an undergraduate education as part of a bigger picture. Championing a “University X or bust” mindset will only add undue stress to a student’s life.
1. Think of yourself less as the manager of your child’s application process and more as the quality control inspector.
Students are often self-motivated about their top-choice schools but sometimes get a bit lax formulating a backup plan. Parents should emphasize the importance of an academic safety school and also a financial safety school.
2. Speak candidly with your son or daughter about the financial realities of their college search.
Don’t go into this process with an Enron-style business plan and assume that tuition money will fall out of the sky. Most teenagers have about as much financial sense as…well…Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. Students absolutely need mom and dad’s help and guidance in this area. If loans are going to be part of the picture, parents should have a lengthy and number-driven conversation about how debt will impact young adulthood.
3. Actively encourage your student to take ownership of the admissions process.
Here’s a brutally honest fact: Admissions offices cringe when they see emails from parents asking about the status of “our” application. Next year, your child will be doing their own laundry, procuring their own meals, and hopefully learning to navigate the world successfully as a young adult. Let them start now.
Parents should periodically take time to self-assess: Am I appropriately involved or overly involved? It’s natural to cross boundaries with our children because we love them and want to give them every advantage in life that we possibly can. However, the first time we catch ourselves going overboard shouldn’t be when the police arrive at our door to deliver a restraining order.